Twitter photo by CCALCP.

Colombia could be on the cusp of a dangerous fracking boom that would release carbon pollution into the atmosphere, endanger drinking water, and violate Indigenous rights.

Colombia’s government began auctioning concessions for exploration in 2014, and by 2017 the UK-based group War on Want reported “at least forty-three new fracking concessions ha[d] been handed out” to corporations.

At that time, War on Want highlighted that the concessions overlap with the territories of the Indigenous Yupka, Wiwa and Wayúu peoples and cross into territories considered sacred to the Kogi, Wiwa, Kankuamo and Aruaco peoples.

And it warned that fracking in these areas would threaten the Chingaza páramo, a water ecosystem that provides Bogota with four-fifth of its drinking water, the Sumapaz paramo, which is a national park in Colombia, and other wetland ecosystems.

Colombia’s Minister of Mines and Energy Maria Fernanda Suarez now says that at least five companies — including Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Parex, and Ecopetrol — are interested in fracking and that the use of fracking could nearly triple the country’s crude oil and gas reserves.

Notably, one of the companies that wants to pursue fracking in Colombia is Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd and its Bogota-based subsidiary CNE Oil & Gas.

The push to move ahead with fracking appears strong.

Colombia’s conservative President Iván Duque Márquez is seen as a supporter of fracking, despite his promise in the June 2018 election that there would be no fracking in Colombia.

And Reuters reports that the Colombian Petroleum Association has argued that fracking “could generate $500 million per project per year in taxes, royalties, dividends for shareholders and salaries” and that “a single fracking project … could generate some 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.”

The state-run oil and gas company Ecopetrol has also applied for licences to frack.

Ecopetrol’s Chief Executive Felipe Bayon recently stated the company plans to spend $500 million on exploring unconventional deposits over the next three years.

He told Reuters, “We’ve applied for some licenses, we will apply for more… roughly 20 wells that will need to be drilled, fracked, cored, lobed, there’s lots of activity, so there’s quite a bit of investment.”

And Zacks reports, “Subject to governmental consent, the tests are likely to be followed by a commercial expansion phase by 2022.”

The drilling is expected to be focused in the Magadalena Valley basin.

The “VMM-3” block that ConocoPhillips and Canacol want to pursue is in the Middle Magdalena Valley and includes parts of Cesar and Santander departments.

And ConocoPhillips’ website states, “The Picoplata #1 well is in the Pita Limón community in the municipality of San Martin (Cesar Department).”

Two years ago, War on Want noted, “Exploratory drilling for non-conventional extraction is already underway in San Martin (Cesar province) and Anapoima in the province of Cundinamarca.”

Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project provides protective accompaniment to the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP), an organization of women human rights lawyers based in the Magdalenia Medio and Catatumbo regions in northeastern Colombia. 

PBI-Colombia notes, “CCALCP, in conjunction with the Defence of Water, Territory and Ecosystem Corporation (CORDATEC) presented a collective suit against the National Hydrocarbons Agency and two oil companies to protect the collective rights that are at risk from the development of a hydrocarbons exploration contract.”

Those two companies were ConocoPhillips and the Bogota-based subsidiary of Calgary-based Canacol Energy Ltd.

Just last week, Reuters reported that Colombia was expected to shelve two environmental licensing requests made by Conoco Philips and Canacol Energy Ltd for fracking projects in northern Cesar province.

That article noted though that the two companies “can request to re-open the licensing process for the projects in the future, the source said, adding the decision is not a definitive no.”

This past March 22, World Water Day, CCALCP tweeted in Spanish that it had “accompanied a long mobilization demanding respect for our rights to water, life and guarantees for territorial defence in harmony with peasant communities.”

The struggle to protect water and to stop fracking in Colombia is one that is likely to intensify in the coming months and years.

Image: CCALCP/Twitter

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...